Note: The following appears in the Wake Forest football gameday program.
During the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented all of us with immense trial and tribulation. Among the groups affected, college athletes have faced many obstacles on the road to becoming both safe and healthy.
In the wake of the sport industry’s battle with COVID-19, defensive end Justin Foster was one who was forced to experience one of his most trying times to date.
Foster contributed during the 2017, 2018 and 2019 seasons on the gridiron. In the summer of 2020, one could find Foster confined within the walls of medical quarantine, awaiting his clearance that would allow him access back onto the field. As one of dozens of Clemson football players to test positive for the coronavirus that year, Foster did not experience any extensive symptoms signaling significant sickness. But upon his return to practice just two weeks later, it was clear that something was not right.
From struggling to breathe during conditioning drills, to lacking the ability to taste and smell any fluids or meals, to never feeling adequately rested, Foster was facing a fight with the long-term effects of COVID-19. He missed the entire 2020 season due to his medical struggles, but the Shelby, N.C. native worked each day to make his time as a Tiger worthwhile.
“It has made me stronger mentally. I still deal with stuff day-to-day from the physical part of it, like shortness of breath, and I still do not have my taste or smell.”
Always looking on the bright side of things, Foster explained his feelings.
“Overall, I think that the everyday battle has made me a better and stronger person.”
While his experience as a Tiger may not be what he had in mind, he remains clear in his advocation for the Clemson football program and staff.
“From the coaching staff to the people in the training room, weight room and the support staff, everyone has played a great part in making me into a better man, and they have prepared me for whatever is next in my life once I leave here. I have had a great experience here. This is one of the best places in the country and it is full of great people.”
It is obvious that this year did not work out the way he may have hoped, as the effects of his bout with COVID-19 led him to the decision to retire from the game at midseason. However, he remains persistent in the pursuit of his purpose…to be there for his teammates.
“My role now is to be there for my teammates. Whether it’s the younger guys or the older guys, I want to be there for them.
“My mindset is to finish out strong and give other guys the wisdom that I have learned over the past five years. I want to help out as much as I can.”
Being such a veteran mind, the insight and advice that Foster can offer to those around him, even from the sideline, can pay dividends to the development and confidence of his teammates.
Many may remember Foster as part of the first Clemson class to go undefeated in Death Valley in a four-year span, amassing 71 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks in his career, or by his two national championship appearances and one national title, but Foster sees himself in a different light. While the accolades will always hold a special place in the heart of the defensive end, he sees himself in a much simpler light.
“I want people to know that I was a blue-collar worker. I came in every day and got the job done to the best of my ability. My mindset whenever I go anywhere and do anything is to make sure everyone knows they can count on me. When I am out on the field or when I am off the field, guys know they can come to me to help get us all through.”
Regarding his plans beyond Clemson, Foster has set a solid foundation for himself and his future. Having graduated with a degree in construction science & management while consistently maintaining academic excellence, Foster is prepared to pursue endeavors in a related field.
“I hope to always be somewhere around the construction industry.”
Upon his departure from Clemson in the near future, Foster harbors ambitious plans.
“I am probably going to branch out and start my own business right out of the gate.”
You may see Foster diving into the trucking industry, but his plans have him remaining in the area for awhile.
Even though his days of football have come to an end, the relationships, education and memories that Foster has been able to experience will never be forgotten. For most, the thought of one day wearing a Tiger uniform, even if it is from the sideline, remains a dream. But for Foster, he remains eternally grateful and passionate about his ability to wear the Tiger Paw.
“I would not trade my experience as a Clemson Tiger for anything in the world. I will always remember this experience and this place, and its people will always hold a special place in my heart.”
Even in the midst of a global pandemic and some of the most unconventional times that athletics has endured, Foster has been able to harbor an experience that has molded him into the man he is proud to be today.